Domestic policy of the Reagan administration

Domestic policy of the Reagan administration

The Domestic policy of the Reagan administration was the domestic policy in the United States from 1981 to 1989 under President Ronald Reagan. It retained conservative values economically, beginning with the president's implementation of his supply-side economic policies, dubbed "Reaganomics" by both supporters and detractors. His policies included the largest tax cut in American history, as well as increased defense spending. After firing nearly 12,000 striking air traffic control workers, Reagan appointed the first woman, Sandra Day O'Connor, to the Supreme Court bench in 1981. He believed in federalism, and encouraged the development of "private sector initiatives" while accelerating the nation's War on Drugs. []


Reagan dismissed acid rain and proposals to halt it as burdensome to industry.cite web|url=|title=Ronald Reagan: On the Issues||accessdate=2008-05-11] The Environmental Protection Agency implored Reagan to make a major budget commitment to reduce acid rain; Reagan rejected the proposal and deemed it as wasteful government spending.cite web|url=|title=Ronald Reagan on Environment||accessdate=2008-05-11] He also questioned scientific evidence on the causes of acid rain. It was later discovered that the administration was releasing Superfund grants for cleaning up local toxic waste sites to enhance the election prospects of local officials aligned with the Republican Party. [ [ Around the Nation; Conviction of Ex-Official Of E.P.A. Is Upheld - New York Times] ] Reagan rarely thought about the environment in political terms, however, and did not fear that his popularity would be damaged by environmental issues.

The HUD controversy involved administration staffers granting federal funding to constituents, and defrauding the U.S. government out of money intended for low income housing. It resulted in six convictions, including James G. Watt, Reagan's Secretary of the Interior. Watt was indicted on 24 felony counts and pled guilty to a single misdemeanor. He was sentenced to five years probation, and ordered to pay a $5000 fine. [ [ Online NewsHour: Case Closed - July 1, 1999] ]

Unions and Corporations

Air traffic controllers' strike

Only a short time into his administration, Federal air traffic controllers went on strike, violating a regulation prohibiting Government unions from striking.cite web |url=|title=The Pressures of PATCO: Strikes and Stress in the 1980s|accessdate= 2007-04-30|author= Rebecca Pels|year= 1995|publisher=Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia] Reagan announced that the situation had become an emergency as described in the 1947 Taft Hartley Act, and held a press conference on August 3, 1981 in the White House Rose Garden regarding the strike. Reagan stated that if the air traffic controllers "do not report for work within 48 hours, they have forfeited their jobs and will be terminated."cite web |url=|title=Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on the Air Traffic Controllers Strike|accessdate= 2007-05-13|year= 1981|publisher=Ronald Reagan Foundation]

Two days later, on August 5, Reagan fired 11,359 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored his order to return to work, notwithstanding the fact that the strike was illegal under federal law. The breaking of the strike had a significant impact on labor-management relations in the private sector. Although private employers nominally had the right to permanently replace striking workers under the National Labor Relations Act, that option was rarely used prior to 1981, but much more frequently thereafter. Reagan's actions essentially broke the striking union. [cite news|url=,0,1761456.story?coll=bal-business-headlines|title=Reagan presidency pivotal for unions|date=2004-06-08|accessdate=2007-12-28|last=Hirsch|first=Stacy|publisher="The Baltimore Sun"]


Following the Vietnam War, and coupled with Carter administration policies, the United States Military was underfunded and plagued by low morale during the late 1970s.cite web|url=|title=Presidents: Ronald Reagan's Military Buildup, 1981-1989|accessdate=2008-03-24|] Reagan initiated a reversal from those policies, and built up the military during the height of the Cold War.cite news|url=|title=Ronald Reagan|author=Noonan, Peggy|work=Time|accessdate=2008-03-24|date=April 13, 1998] This built up, a 40% real increase in defense spending,cite journal|author= Bartels, Larry M|title=Constituency Opinion and Congressional Policy Making: The Reagan Defense Build Up|journal=The American Political Science Review|year=1991|volume=85|issue=2|pages= 457–474|doi=10.2307/1963169] included the revival of the B-1 bomber program, which had been cancelled by the Carter administration; the deployment of Pershing II missiles in West Germany; the increased enlistment and thousands of troops; and a more advanced intelligence system.

trategic Defense Initiative

In 1983, Reagan introduced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a defense project. The intended goal was to make the US invulnerable to a Soviet missile attack by placing missiles in space and vaporizing those of the Soviets, upon a nuclear attack. This would be done by a laser guidance system, which grew into a series of systems that turned into a layered ballistic missile defense. Dubbed "Star Wars" by the news media, many wondered if the technological objective was attainable. Following air defense laser testing in 1973, work continued throughout the 1980s, and the first above earth test laser intercept was completed.

The Arts

As Ronald and Nancy Reagan were both former actors and he had served as president of the Screen Actor's Guild, via a 1982 Executive Order, President Reagan established the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. In each year of his presidency, Reagan increased funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. In a 1983 speech he declared, "We support the National Endowment for the Arts to stimulate excellence and make art more available to more of our people." [ [ NEA Chronology Final ] ]

War on Drugs

Not long after being sworn into office, Reagan declared more militant policies in the "War on Drugs".cite web |url= |title= The War on Drugs | publisher = | date = May 10 2001| accessdate= 2007-04-04] cite web |url= | title= NIDA InfoFacts: High School and Youth Trends | publisher = National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIH | accessdate=2007-04-04] He promised a "planned, concerted campaign" against all drugs,cite web |url= |title= The Drug War as Race War |accessdate= 2007-04-11 |author= Randall, Vernellia R |date= April 18 2006|publisher= The University of Dayton School of Law] eventually leading to decreases in adolescent drug use in America.cite web |url=|title=Interview: Dr. Herbert Kleber|accessdate=2007-06-12|publisher=PBS|quote=The politics of the Reagan years and the Bush years probably made it somewhat harder to get treatment expanded, but at the same time, it probably had a good effect in terms of decreasing initiation and use. For example, marijuana went from thirty-three percent of high-school seniors in 1980 to twelve percent in 1991.] cite web |author = Bachman, Gerald G. et al. | url= |title= The Decline of Substance Use in Young Adulthood | publisher = The Regents of the University of Michigan | accessdate=2007-04-04]

President Reagan signed a large drug enforcement bill into law in 1987; it granted $1.7 billion to fight drugs, and ensured a mandatory minimum penalty for drug offenses. The bill was criticized for promoting significant racial disparities in the prison population, however, because of the differences in sentencing for crack versus powder cocaine.

Critics also charged that the administration's policies did little to actually reduce the availability of drugs or crime on the street, while resulting in a great financial and human cost for American society.cite web |url= | publisher = | title= The Reagan-Era Drug War Legacy | date = 2004-06-11 | accessdate= 2007-04-04] Supporters argued that the numbers for adolsecent drug users declined during Reagan's years in office.

As a part of the administration's effort, Reagan's First Lady, Nancy, made the War on Drugs her main cause as First Lady, by founding the "Just Say No" drug awareness campaign. Today, there are still hundreds of "Just Say No" clinics and school clubs in operation around the country aimed at helping and rehabilitating children and teenagers with drug problems.cite web |url= | title= Thirty Years of America's Drug War | publisher = PBS | accessdate=2007-04-04] The program demonstrated to children various ways of refusing drugs and alcohol.

The Judiciary

Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to fill the Supreme Court Justice vacancy left by the retirement of Justice Potter Stewart, as he had promised during his 1980 presidential campaign. In 1986, during his second term, the president elevated Justice William Rehnquist to succeed outgoing Chief Justice Warren Burger and named Antonin Scalia to occupy the seat left by Rehnquist.

In 1987, when Associate Justice Louis Powell retired, Reagan nominated conservative jurist Robert Bork to the high court. Within 45 minutes of Bork's nomination to the Court, Ted Kennedy (D-MA) took to the Senate floor with a strong condemnation of Bork in a nationally televised speech, declaring,

The rapid response of Kennedy's "Robert Bork's America" speech stunned the Reagan White House; though conservatives considered Kennedy's accusations slanderous ideological smears on a well qualified candidate for the bench [cite news |title= The Original Borking |accessdate=2008-04-28 |url= |author=Miranda, Manuel |date=August 24, 2005 |work=The Wall Street Journal] , the attacks went unanswered for two and a half months.cite web
title=Court nominees will trigger rapid response
publisher="Christian Science Monitor"
author=Gail Russell Chaddock
] Bork refused to withdraw himself and his nomination was rejected 58-42 [cite news|author=Greenhouse, Linda.|title=Bork's Nomination Is Rejected, 58-42; Reagan 'Saddened' |url= |work=The New York Times |date=October 24, 1987 |accessdate=2007-11-12] . Anthony Kennedy was eventually confirmed in his place. [cite web |url= |title=Anthony M. Kennedy |accessdate= 2007-11-12 |year=1999 |publisher=Supreme Court Historical Society]

Reagan also nominated a large number of judges to the United States district court and United States court of appeals benches; most of these nominations were not controversial, although a handful of candidates were singled out for criticism by civil rights advocates and other liberal critics, resulting in occasional confirmation fights. Both his Supreme Court nominations and his lower court appointments were in line with Reagan's express philosophy that judges should interpret law as enacted and not "legislate from the bench." By the end of the 1980s, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court had put an end to the perceived "activist" trend begun under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren. Some argued that the conservatives justices were equally activist, but that their sympathies with corporate America. However, general adherence to the principle of stare decisis along with minority support, left most of the major landmark case decisions (such as "Brown", "Miranda", and "Roe v. Wade") of the previous three decades still standing as binding precedent.

Reagan appointed many leading conservative academics to the intermediate United States Courts of Appeals, including Bork, Ralph K. Winter, Jr., Richard Posner, and Frank Easterbrook.

Response to AIDS

Perhaps the greatest criticism surrounds Regan's silence about the AIDS epidemic spreading in the 1980s. Although AIDS was first identified in 1981, Reagan did not mention it publicly for several more years, notably during a press conference in 1985 and several speeches in 1987. During the press conference in 1985 Reagan expressed skepticism in allowing children with AIDS to continue in school stating:

The CDC had previously issued a report stating that "casual person-to-person contact as would occur among schoolchildren appears to pose no risk." [ [ Roberts's Queer Reasoning on AIDS] ] During his 1987 speeches Reagan supported modest educational funding on AIDS [ [ Critics unimpressed with Reagan's AIDS gambit] ] , increased AIDS testing for marriage licenses and mandatory testing for high risk groups. [ [ Reagan and AIDS] ] citation |title=And the Band Played On|first=Randy |last=Shilts |year=1987 |publisher=St. Martin's Press |place=New York |isbn=0312241356]

Even with the death from AIDS of his friend Rock Hudson, Reagan was widely criticized for not supporting more active measures to contain the spread of AIDS. Until celebrity Elizabeth Taylor spoke out publicly about the monumental amount of people quickly dying from this new disease, most public officials and celebrities were too afraid of dealing with this subject.

Possibly in deference to the views of the powerful religious right, which saw AIDS as a disease limited to the gay male community and spread by "immoral" behavior, Reagan prevented his Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, from speaking out about the epidemic. When in 1986 Reagan was highly encouraged by many other public officials to authorize Koop to issue a report on the epidemic, he expected it to be in line with conservative policies; instead, Koop's "Surgeon General's Report on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome" greatly emphasized the importance of a comprehensive AIDS education strategy, including widespread distribution of condoms, and rejected mandatory testing. This approach brought Koop into conflict with other administration officials such as Education Secretary William Bennett.

Social action groups such as ACT UP worked to raise awareness of the AIDS problem. Because of ACT UP, in 1987, Reagan responded by appointing the Watkins Commission on AIDS, which was succeeded by a permanent advisory council, and subsequently (under the administration of President Clinton) by the "AIDS czar".

Many socially conservative commentators saw Reagan's handling of the AIDS crisis as a common sense approach to a problem they believed was caused by social immorality. Members of the gay and lesbian and African American communities saw his policies as anything from politically motivated willful blindness to allow a national holocaust to occur in silence with outright contempt for groups affected by the disease.

LGBT Rights

Reagan is reported to have been personally tolerant of homosexuality.] In a "Time" magazine interview, Reagan's daughter, Patti Davis, recalled that when she was a little girl watching a film with actor Rock Hudson, her father talked about the actor's gay orientation in a "clear, smooth, non-judgmental way". One of Reagan's high level advisors since the 1970s, Martin Anderson, stated that Reagan seemed comfortable working around gay people in Hollywood and that he believed gay people should tolerated. [] Yet, despite his personal tolerance, he generally opposed LGBT legislation.



*cite book|last=Appleby|first=Joyce|coauthors=Alan Brinkley, James M. McPherson|title=The American Journey|publisher=Glencoe/McGraw-Hill|date=2003|location=Woodland Hills, California|id = 0078241294
*cite book|author=Boskin, Michael J.|authorlink=Michael Boskin|year=1987|title=Reagan and the US Economy: The Successes, Failures, and Unfinished Agenda|publisher=ICEG
*cite book|title=Ronald Reagan: The Presidential Portfolio: A History Illustrated from the Collection of the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum|first=Lou|last =Cannon|authorlink=Lou Cannon|coauthors=Michael Beschloss|publisher=PublicAffairs|isbn=1891620843|year=2001
*cite book|author=Niskanen, William A.|authorlink=William A. Niskanen|year=1988|title=Reaganomics: An Insider's Account of the Policies and the People|publisher=Oxford University Press|location=Oxford, England
*cite book|author=Wojciech,Bienkowski|coauthors= Brada Josef, Radlo Mariusz-Jan, eds.|year=2006|title=Reaganomics Goes Global: What Can the EU, Russia and Transition Countries Learn from the USA?|publisher=Palgrave Macmillan

External links

* [ The Historical Lessons of Lower Tax Rates] by Heritage Foundation
* [ Supply Tax Cuts and the Truth About the Reagan Economic Record] by Cato Institute
* [ Supply Side Economics: Do Tax Rate Cuts Increase Growth and Revenues and Reduce Budget Deficits ? Or Is It Voodoo Economics All Over Again?] by economist Nouriel Roubini
* [ Ronald Reagan's Legacy] , a criticism of Reaganomics by economist John Miller
* [ Reaganomics: Why Ronald Reagan's 1981 Tax Cut Did Not Cause the 1983 Recovery or Boost Tax Revenues] by Bernard Sherman. (Article argues against claims that the supply-side effects of the 1981 tax cut caused the 1983 expansion or were self-funding; praises 1986 tax reform.)
* [ The History of Government Economic Policy in Britain, USA & the World, including Maynard Keynes and Friedrich von Hayek ideas.]
* [ Reaganomics]

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